Hip-hop and R&B are no stranger to each other, though lately, the two genres seem to be spilling into pop more and more.
Hip-hop and contemporary R&B artist Anderson .Paak maintains his soulful and smiley sound on his fourth studio album, “Ventura.” Although it was recorded at the same time and originally set to be released alongside his 2018 LP “Oxnard,” Anderson was right to leave it unattached.
Ultimately, “Ventura” is a culmination of the blandest parts of Anderson’s most popular music, but it is slightly revived by the accompanying features.
Intro track “Come Home” begins with sounds Anderson has become known for: the same jazzy instruments and soulful beats found on his previous projects. In this song, Anderson portrays someone who’s initially trying to gain back someone else’s love, only to learn to be content with the friendship they now have. With a minute and a half left in the song, legendary rapper André 3000 saves the song from monotony with a lightning-fast verse backed by plucky guitar riffs.
“Make it Better” follows as the second track, with Anderson sounding the most energetic here than on any other part of the album. With a bouncing, catchy chorus that features an appearance from Motown star Smokey Robinson, this is definitely the kind of track to bump with the windows down on a nice summer day. Here, Anderson wants a former lover to try again at their relationship, hoping he isn’t the only one still with feelings. He tries to convince her to take him back by reminding her of when they felt close to each other, as opposed to how they feel awkward together now.
Continuing the theme of exploring the struggles that accompany the search for love, “Winners Circle” highlights Anderson’s appreciation for the new woman in his life. A solid bassline and layered vocals brings some additional funk to the song while Anderson admires how this new girl doesn’t immediately throw herself at him. This is a change of pace compared to what he’s used to, an endless line of girls waiting to have a shot with him. This causes him to stop and respect her for making him work for her affection.
“King James” references LeBron James and all the accomplishments he’s made, even outside of his basketball career. Specifically efforts made to uplift black and African-American community members, which is something Anderson praises: “And we salute King James for using his change/to create some equal opportunities.” He claims action like this is necessary as long as there is racial tension affecting their homes. The fairly straightforward lyrics are barely spiced up by the skillful saxophone and guitar in the background, but it maintains the easy listening vibe of the album.
Danceable, head-nodding beats and dreamy vocals from Brandy makes “Jet Black” one of the more interesting tracks on the album, as far as variation from Anderson’s general sound is concerned. But it doesn’t necessarily break any ground lyrically. In this song, all Anderson knows is, when he’s with this girl, it’s the best he’s ever felt.
Anderson ends “Ventura” with “What Can We Do?” — a track asking questions about what his next step is after officially ending his relationship. He treats hip-hop and soul fusion fans with previously unreleased Nate Dogg recordings seamlessly cut to make it seem as if Nate Dogg were still alive and in the studio for the feature. An array of trumpets, saxophones and trombones paired with an eastern sitar riff makes for a memorable send-off to the album.
“Ventura” is further proof that Anderson .Paak has earned the respect of his peers in multiple genres. But this album listens like a B-side compilation. Yes, it’s still quality music, but the lack of energy in “Ventura” is obvious, especially when compared to its twin, “Oxnard.”
Waiting a mere five months between projects showed Anderson’s approach is quantity over quality, an industry practice that is unfortunately becoming the standard.